When HBO announced in spring that it was considering four Game of Thrones spin-offs, fans were so dazzled by the sheer number of options that they didn’t quite know what to think. So, as he sometimes does in times of media frenzy and fan confusion, author George R.R. Martin took to his favorite platform, LiveJournal, to clear some things up. At the time, he declared that there were not just four possible spin-offs in the mix—but a secret fifth one as well. (He alluded to no. 5 cheekily and prematurely again on his blog last month.) Now, though, the news is finally and officially sanctioned by HBO: Game of Thrones executive producer Bryan Cogman has thrown his hat into the ring for a potential prequel. And if you’re a fan of the current show, that’s very good news indeed.
Without slighting the other very talented writers whose possible spin-offs are under consideration—Max Borenstein (Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island); Jane Goldman (Kingsman: The Secret Service); Brian Helgeland (L.A.: Confidential, Robin Hood); and Carly Wray (Mad Men, The Leftovers)—Cogman is the best hope HBO has at ensuring a new series that will be both faithful to the spirit of Martin’s original text and consistent with the work that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have done for the past seven or so years.
At this point, Weiss and Benioff do the lion’s share of the scripting on Thrones—but Cogman and Season 5 addition Dave Hill are still contributing one episode per season, which makes Bryan Cogman the only writer to have contributed to all eight seasons of Game of Thrones. If anyone knows how Weiss and Benioff work, it’s him.
As for his knowledge of the text, well, that’s evident to superfans in his reference-laden work. A Cogman episode is always marked by callbacks both to previous seasons and to deeper lore from Martin’s novels. But you don’t have to take my word for it; here’s what Martin himself said about Cogman, way back in May, before he could name the person he was praising: “He’s a really terrific addition. A great guy and a fine writer, and aside from me and maybe Elio and Linda, I don’t know anyone who knows and loves Westeros as well as he does.” At the time, we guessed he must be talking about Cogman.
Who else?Cogman will write the second episode of Game of Thrones Season 8 and, all told, will have “written by” credits on 11 episodes of the series—including Season 3, Episode 5, which some consider one of the finest Thrones installments overall. (In fact, in a recent, informal poll I conducted, many fans praised “Kissed by Fire” over the much more infamous “Rains of Castamere.”) The popularity of “Kissed by Fire” has, I suspect, much to do with its Jaime and Brienne bath scene—which is not only a solid character beat for two beloved characters, but actually camouflages an enthralling chunk of exposition about the Mad King and wildfire.
So that’s good news for fans worried that these prequels—which will all be set before the action of Game of Thrones—will stray too far from Martin’s work. But it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for Cogman and the fandom. He also has a “written by” credit on arguably the most controversial episode of Game of Thrones: Season 5’s “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” a.k.a. Sansa’s No-Good-Very-Bad-Wedding Night. But unlike most of the creative team on Thrones—which often chooses to avoid conversations with both press and fans altogether when it comes to controversy—Cogman engaged in a dialogue over what many considered to be a creative misstep on the show.
While the decision to put Sansa in such a position—one she doesn’t have to endure in the books—surely wasn’t his alone, Cogman shouldered a lot of the blame in both one-on-one discussions with fans on social media and in an emotional commentary track, which you can hear on the Season 5 DVD/Blu-ray.
In fact, given Weiss and Benioff’s (somewhat understandable) reluctance to engage directly with the fandom at this point, it’s Cogman who has often served as a direct line of communication. He’s the one this year who, for example, apologized to fans on Twitter for not including a scene between the direwolf Ghost and Jon. “I tried!” he said, demonstrating that he has his finger on the pulse of what some die-hard Thrones fans have been missing in the later seasons.
What do we know about the actual content or premise of Cogman’s pitch? Nothing more than we already knew, according to Entertainment Weekly. However, while you may not be the betting kind, if you were to lay money on which of these five proposed prequels will go forward, it might be wise to go all in on Cogman—clearly Martin’s favorite, and someone HBO already knows and respects.